What seems clear and obvious to Jerry Allan might seem to others complex, multidimensional, and surreal, like stepping into a video game. This could be a huge problem in connecting and understanding others, leading to a life of isolation and overcompensating to fit in, if not for the superpower of design thinking.
Fortunately, for Jerry and all who saw his superpowers in action, which included thousands of professionals from many fields and thousands of college students, all headed to many different career paths, Jerry discovered design thinking and locked into the design process in his first year in the School of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in 1962.
Meet Jerry Allen, architect and founder of Criteria Architects, Inc., teacher, professor, and chairman.
He teaches, trains, and facilitates in the areas of creativity, futures, new product development, and staff development for both the public and private sectors.
He is exploring and building more original projects on top of a career of more than 45 years of creating, then developing, then teaching semester-long and professional-retreat-level courses with these names:
Those lucky enough to learn design thinking from Jerry got the real deal. He is the master and originator of an entire body of work based on design thinking principles. The hype around this generalizable approach to technical and social innovation dialed up from 1970 to 2005, when Stanford University Design School began to teach it as a path through the ambiguities and complexities increasing exponentially in every profession, every industry, and personal life.
Way before the hype, design thinking was Jerry’s jam. That makes Jerry an original, a pioneer, and someone worth knowing and learning from.
I met Jerry in a two-day professional development workshop in the 1990s. He might have blown me away in the first five minutes if I was not extremely curious, multilayered, intuitive, and irreverent with humor, like Jerry.
“Can you kill creativity?” he shouted to the class for his greeting and opening. If you can kill it then you can grow it. Everyone has the capacity to be creative. For two days we took creativity apart, examined it through time and through the neuroscience of a brain that barely reaches the depths of creativity we were all born with. Jerry is an architect who thinks across many professions and experiences to help us find our creative potential and apply it to our today, tomorrow, and the macro universe.
He taught us we can apply design to all kinds of problems. All problems are messy and complex, just like people, and need creative thinking. Creativity is a muscle or a skill you work to get more creative.
Jerry was the first to show me how to handle hundreds of points of view or points of information and then connect the dots. Call it radical collaboration. Call it out of the box. For Jerry, we are becoming proficient in a new language of creativity that we use when working with others—clients, family members, all kinds of people necessary in our lives, to hold hands in the middle and get through the ups and downs of messy challenges.
There are more than 50 measurable traits of the gifted adult, also documented as Everyday Genius™ or Rainforest Mind, but to name a few, Jerry has these characteristics: Complex thinking and visualization, such as the creator, writer, and artist who creates the built environment, children’s books, and teaches lessons on how to have time work for you or against you in a keynote speech at the World Future Society. Multipotentialities and a career of multiple roles and job titles form a comfortable and exciting place for the gifted while others seek shelter in the one question of “What will you be when you grow up?”There is no such thing as retirement—only the next challenge for the intense, sensitive, and empathetic adult who is gifted. Gifted are born that way and throughout life, they feel a responsibility for the world that might crush other souls.
Soon after retiring as Head of Entrepreneurial Studies for Minnesota College of Art and Design, Jerry and his wife and business partner Georgiana took a storytelling course. That added an exponential dimension to Jerry’s superpowers of design thinking and then he layered all Allan family members into the next big thing—the creation of four books with each family member taking ownership of one book in the series, as an author, illustrator, art director, editor, and producer. Essentially, things went from a lifetime of notes and sketches, then took off during the COVID pandemic into a family enterprise publishing house.
Q: Is true for you? Because you are a deep thinker, highly intuitive, creative, analytical, and curious, you bring a particularly complex dimension to professional relationships.
Jerry: That’s true. Also, I’m always interested in other people’s career paths.
Q: Did you become a professional on purpose or did your career path open a door into the profession you identify with today?
Jerry: I did not know what an architect was until my high school counselor suggested it along with the Air Force Academy. At age 5 I wanted to build a dam that wouldn’t fail. One of the greatest gifts I ever received was 4 chairs and a table. My wife is an architect and we met through common interests in environmental psychology. Louis Khan was not only a world-renowned architect but a master teacher. He changed my life by teaching me how to think. That lead to my lifelong admiration for teachers: Those who can, do. Those who teach, do more. They change people’s lives.
Q: Which of your communication skills do you seem to work on constantly, always learning, always evolving?
Jerry: Architecture is about rewriting, all the time. The communication skills I work on constantly are architecture design, drawing, and environment, plus storytelling with writing and drawing for children’s and adults’ coloring storybooks.
The power of quotes and rhetoric are part of the gifted person’s thinking. Here are the quotes Jerry often uses. They come from no one source; instead, they come from repetitions in Jerry’s daily work of teaching professionals and aspiring professionals how to make big visions real and open up even more creative possibilities and opportunities for others to engage with us.
All problems are opportunities.
Learn how to make time work for you instead of against you.
Learn How to make your subconscious work for you instead of against you.
Each week, we feature professionals who are initiating meaningful conversations with other gifted minds and storytellers–and who they serve. They connect regularly through this blog, our newsletter, and their own emails to nurture and support the network which enriches them. See if their words and actions work for you or engage with them directly by sending a comment and sharing your insights.